Manchester United’s recent Champions League exit has cast a spotlight on their £72 million summer signing, Rasmus Hojlund.
Despite being the top scorer in the competition with five goals, Hojlund’s Premier League struggles highlight a mismatch between the player’s strengths and United’s current style of play.
United’s gamble on Hojlund, a young striker with limited Serie A experience, was a bold move in their quest for a long-term solution in the centre-forward role.
This move marked a shift from their previous strategy of relying on experienced but temporary options like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani. However, the true potential of Hojlund’s talent and his fit within United’s system is yet to be determined.
The Danish forward’s performance against Bayern Munich, where he failed to register a shot or a touch in the opponent’s penalty area, exemplifies the challenges he faces.
Unlike his more successful nights in European competition, the Premier League has seen Hojlund average just 1.8 shots per 90 minutes – a stark contrast to the league’s top forwards and even lower than some players from less prominent teams.
The comparison with Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez is telling. Nunez, despite criticism, shows promising underlying data suggesting his goalscoring form will improve. Hojlund, on the other hand, struggles not with finishing but with finding shooting opportunities in the first place.
Hojlund’s Champions League success, where he overperformed his expected goals (xG), contrasts sharply with his Premier League performance.
His chance quality significantly improved in Europe, indicating that United’s approach in these games better suited his playing style. This disparity raises questions about United’s utilization of Hojlund in domestic matches.
Their tactical setup appears to be a critical factor.
Hojlund thrived at Atalanta under Gian Piero Gasperini’s system, which emphasized wing-backs delivering early crosses – a stark contrast to United’s preference for inverted wingers like Antony and Marcus Rashford.
Hojlund’s strengths, such as attacking lateral passes and crosses for first-time finishes, are not being leveraged in United’s current strategy.
The absence of a clear plan to maximize Hojlund’s attributes at Old Trafford is concerning.
With no European football after Christmas, United must find ways to integrate Hojlund effectively in the Premier League. His adaptation and United’s tactical adjustments will be crucial for his success.
The club’s investment in Hojlund represents not just a financial commitment but a strategic one. It’s a test of the club’s ability to develop and adapt a promising talent into a successful Premier League striker.